Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 24 April 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Fantasy Defense

Game: Fantasy Defense

Publisher: Mandoo Games

Designer:  Evan Song, Yoshiyuki Arai (あらいよしゆき)

Year: 2017

In Fantasy Defense, players lead the resistance of a mighty city besieged by forces of evil – waves of orcs, goblins, and far worse.

At the beginning of each game, 'stack' the Enemy Deck with a powerful dragon at the bottom. Then set the city morale to 20, lay out the gate tiles, and shuffle the Defenders Deck. Will your defenders be able to take on the foes that await them behind  the city walls?

Fantasy Defense funded on Kickstarter in May 2017 and is now available through some specialist retailers, such as Nice Game Shop. If you're interested in solo games or two player cooperative games then read on to find out more about Fantasy Defense.


In Fantasy Defense you play as one of two factions, either elves or humans, defending their kingdom from an incoming swarm of monsters. Each round you will draw a hand of troop cards from your deck, before drawing a number of monsters from the monster deck. Monsters will distribute themselves along the edges of your castle walls before you get a chance to play your troop cards to defeat them. Ultimately there are 3 fates a monster can bring down: If you don't even try to defend against it it will do full damage to your castle, which will result in you losing should you take too much damage. A monster which you have assigned some, but not enough, troops to defend will kill off 1 troop card and deal half it's normal damage to the castle. Should you assign a value of troops that is higher than the monsters strength then you will have defeated it, losing 1 troop card in the battle, but preventing your castle taking any damage.

Troops can be placed freely on any of your castle wall sections, but once played are limited to moving 1 space a turn. Your troops tend to be of strength 1-6, so you'll need multiple cards to defeat each monster which start at a value of mid teens and go up as high as 40 for bosses. While this can be nearly unachievable early on, with clever uses of the many special abilities, and even the 2 racial spells that each deck of defenders has you can fight off the incoming monsters.

Playing 2-player adds a few new dynamics to the game, with  the ability to lend troops to the other player's army and to fight bosses together, giving you twice the offence, but also twice the damage should you fail.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Fantasy Defense is not a complex game, the mechanics are simple and there aren't many combos to learn. While each race does perform differently this isn't too confusing as they have a page in the manual that explains all of the rules for your race's special powers. It is refreshing to swap out between playing as the humans and elves as each race plays differently enough as to change the puzzle.

And that's what Fantasy Defense is in a nutshell: a puzzle. You have a handful of enemies with these numbers, how do your distribute your troops so as to best beat those numbers, what are you willing to ignore in the hope to gain next turns reinforcements, and when is the best time to utilize your one-use spells? The gameplay is simply, but difficult enough to be interesting. Especially in two-player where you add the ability to borrow troops from your allies, potentially gaining access to their race's special powers when they would be most useful.

One issue I did have with the game was the randomness, while enemies are made into a deck with the easier ones arriving before the harder ones, the early game is really where the challenge is. Even the easy monsters vary quite massively, an enemy with a  strength of 12 is considerably easier to fight off than one with a strength of 19, and let's just hope you didn't draw a hand full of the no-power low-numbered troops whose main use is simply to be the casualty when you fight something! It's very possible to have a bad starting hand while the monsters have a good one. and should you still be dealing with last rounds monsters (they don't go away until you kill them) then next turn you are only going to be more overwhelmed. Conversely once you have a decent size army hanging about on each side of the board you are able to deal with most things without even playing a card from your hand. All the difficulty is front weighted, and even the bosses do little to counter this.

Overall there certainly is fun to be had from Fantasy Defense, the simple gameplay is well tuned, bar the occasional game when luck is beating you senseless, and there is a real sense of hope vs despair as you struggle to survive the first few turns. For me, it seems that the game is best to be played 2-player as then this struggle is shared, and even if one player is doing well you share the same health pool, so you have to learn to work together enough to help, but not enough to weaken yourself! I would have liked to see another race to add more variety or even more monster powers to keep the game from getting stale after a few plays, but Fantasy Defense is certainly worth playing should you get the chance.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I really enjoy the puzzly mechanisms of Fantasy Defense. I particularly like how you build up your strength over the course of the game, meaning that a game that looks hopeless early on, can still end up in a joyous victory with the help of a few special abilities and clever card play. The shuffle of your deck and the enemy deck can both effect game difficulty, depending if you draw your big cards early. However, the need to sacrifice one card from each fight each turn means that a balance of good cards and some to throw away is what you really need. It is a little frustrating that sometimes the game is really challenging whilst in other games it seems too easy and there is no mechanism to control this. Cooperative games are often about fighting luck, but having no difficulty control is not great for my desire to replay the game after winning it twice.

We have only played the game with two players where it works really well as a cooperative experience. There isn't a great deal of ability to help each other, with only one possible card exchange per turn which we very rarely used. However the joint combat against the bosses also adds another element of cooperation.

Fantasy Defense is definitely a game I'd recommend trying to fans of two player games and would make a great board game cafe experience because it's easy to teach and play whilst providing something new to the two-player shelf.

You Might Like...
  • Although it's primarily a solo game, the variants that make it 2-player cooperative seem really well thought out.
  • The shuffle can give you a variety of easy and hard games.
  • The game is very simple, but feels different to most other cooperative games we own.
You Might Not Like...
  • It's not possible to control the game difficulty, so there's no sense of progression once you beat the game once.
  • The theme is a very generic one, albeit very nicely illustrated.

The Verdict
6.5/10 Fantasy Defense is a great two-player cooperative game. With simple mechanics it creates possibilities for a challenging puzzly game, that can be a very tight finish. The game's pacing can really create a rollercoaster ride. The only drawback is that there is limited scope for variety in multiple plays of the game.

Fantasy Defence was a review copy kindly provided to us by Mandoo Games.

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